Silent housing crisis hurting Toowoomba

EXCLUSIVE: Toowoomba is in the midst of a silent housing crisis as residents living with progressive neurological diseases struggle to find age-appropriate accommodation.

MS Queensland CEO Lincoln Hooper described the situation in the Garden City as dire, and among the worst he's seen in the state.

Residents living with diseases such as MS, he said, were at breaking point.

He hopes $250,000 can change that, and allow MS Queensland to move forward with its plans to build a 10-12 room high-needs care apartments in Toowoomba under Project Dignity.

"We know there is this desperate need for high-need housing when a situation like MS takes hold and a person can no longer live in their own home," Mr Hooper he said.

The WG Group are proud to support MS Queensland. Our virtual reality showcases how Project Dignity 120 apartments will change lives for people in desperate need and help solve the disability housing crisis.
The WG Group are proud to support MS Queensland. Our virtual reality showcases how Project Dignity 120 apartments will change lives for people in desperate need and help solve the disability housing crisis. WG Group

Take a virtual tour of Toowoomba's Project Dignity apartment complex, created by WG Group for MS Queensland.

"When we started to talk to them about the possibility of creating this housing, they have become so desperate in the lack of it and the unfulfilled promises over many years they are so desperate there are more planning to end their life than prepare for the rest of it in something like this.

"They are so desperate they are moved into aged care or sadly take their own life."

The first Project Dignity complex will open in Springfield in about 25 days, and with a mystery donor kicking in $750,000 of the required $1 million seed funding, the Toowoomba project is close to getting off the ground.

It will bring age appropriate high-needs care to the city, about 20 jobs during operation, relieve families of their carer responsibilities and, in some cases, allow them to return to the workforce.

"A younger person living in aged care is not appropriate for them, not because of the care but just because of their age," Mr Hooper said.

"They're given back their dignity, respect and independence to be able to live an exceptional life.

"Through the drift of a disease, people have changed their identity.

"They were a partner and become carers and the relationship has changed so they are liberated back to being the partner again instead of the carer."

To find out more, visit MS Queensland.

Artist image of MS Queensland Toowoomba Project Dignity 120 apartments
Artist image of MS Queensland Toowoomba Project Dignity 120 apartments Contributed


TERRAN Hassall had no choice but to leave Toowoomba.

Diagnosed with MS 10 years ago, the avid fantasy art painter remains fiercely independent but lives more than 120km from his family in the Garden City.

His mother Julia, who was initially his primary carer after Mr Hassall was diagnosed, drives to Brisbane every weekend, and the two continue to share a strong bond.

He'd done all he could to stay at his own home in Stanthorpe where he was living when he was diagnosed.

He had the support of his family and neighbours, and had installed a ramp to his home as he tried to adjust to life in a wheelchair.

Mr Hassall has made MS Queensland's Granston Lodge his home, but the initial move was not without his own reservations and concerns.

Granston Lodge, in the Brisbane suburb of Dutton Park, helped him retain his dignity, and give him choice and control of his day-to-day life.

Terran Hassall
Terran Hassall Contributed

He is now earmarked to be one of the first residents at MS Queensland's new Project Dignity home in Springfield when it opens this month.

But given the choice he would come home to the Range, help cut down his mother's travel time and the weekly expense, and enjoy closer ties with his family.

"Having that opportunity to see his mum more regularly would be amazing for him," Granston Lodge residential co-ordinator Anna Power said.

Mr Hassall can no longer move his arms to pick up a paint brush as the MS progresses.

"My inspiration is not as strong as it used to be when I was free and able to do things quickly," Mr Hassall said.

He remains as independent as he can be, and the new high-needs facility will let him live with choice and control of his life as best as the disease allows.

The Springfield unit will be slightly closer for his family and there's the hope closing the geographic gap will also bridge the distance between some family and friends.


AT JUST 18, a Toowoomba man is facing the prospect of either moving into an aged-care home, or away from family and his existing support system because of his recently diagnosed progressive neurological disease.

He is one of 28 in the Garden City who face lonely futures.

"People want to live in their own place where they are cared for," MS Queensland service coordinator Janice Wheeler, who has worked in Toowoomba for 15 years, told The Chronicle.

"Families are falling apart trying to maintain care for their loved ones.

"People are just living each day. Parents are being pushed from pillar to post thinking of what they will do, when they are no longer here."

Janice Wheeler regional service coordinator of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Queensland (Toowoomba) will purchase a new car with a grant from the Gambling Community Benefit Fund, Tuesday, June 05, 2012. Photo Kevin Farmer / The Chronicle
MS Queensland service coordinator Janice Wheeler. Kevin Farmer

Building Project Dignity would give those 28 residents a chance to stay in their hometown and get suitable care.

It is hoped Toowoomba will be the second complex built in Queensland, behind Springfield which is set to open later this month.

"In some respects the project here is really just scratching the surface," MS Queensland CEO Lincoln Hooper said.

"We've got to start somewhere. We're got to start showing the way.

"(The 28) is desperate by the numbers but the stories behind the numbers of people who have given up all hope of this ever happening, and are not making plans for their life... shows you, I think, the story behind the numbers."

How $250,000 can bring Project Dignity to Toowoomba

PROJECT Dignity is a statewide initiative which aims to fix the high-needs housing situation in Queensland, building 10 centres each with about 10 to 12 state-of-the-art homes.

MS Queensland's funding model needs $1 million in donations to kick start development, with the remainder of the $7.5 million secured through other arrangements.

Toowoomba is $250,000 shy of the $1 million mark.

Care is provided under the NDIS, and work is being done to secure land for the project.

MS Queensland CEO Lincoln Hooper.
MS Queensland CEO Lincoln Hooper. Contributed

"These apartments are state-of-the-art, they are fully (designed) for changing needs and circumstances so it means that a person in a wheelchair can move around through the entire apartment regardless of the size," MS Queensland CEO Lincoln Hooper said.

"There's also an automation suite that allows them to operate everything electrically off an iPad or voice controller or eye controller.

"It simply means the technology assists them to be as independent as possible and then MS Queensland layers care around that."

To find out more, visit MS Queensland.